Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Bobby Hackett Method

When asked if he did anything special to prepare himself for a performance, the great jazz coronet player Bobby Hackett said, "I just go out there and try to do it right."

Hmm ... doesn't seem like an overly difficult job description. We could assume that the cornetist just hoped to make no outright mistakes. But for a musician of his calibre, mistakes are pretty much a non-issue. So what, then, did he mean by do it right?

Deciding what's right can be difficult. The difference between good and not-so-good is often subjective, and the interpretation can be very personal. And doing it right can include knowing what not to play.

Then there are the times when doing what's right isn't the right way to go. I'm sure you've been in a situation where the theoretically correct thing didn't work for that tune. It's also possible to miss opportunities when trying to play something 'by the book'. Playing with correct technique may not suit either. Then it's time to do it wrong, and that can be a great stimulus to creativity and discovery.

Here's the list I use to help me do it right:

  • Be as competent as I can be: Continue to grow musically and never stop learning
  • No mistakes or clunkers: Know the material inside-out
  • Right style, tradition: Assumes I've done my homework
  • Right energy, feel and passion: It has to work for the song and the context
  • No extraneous crap: Always be tasteful
  • Creative: Try to bring something new, fresh
  • 'Busyness' level: I've played too busy and also not busy enough!
A simple and always valid goal is to try to do it 'better than last time'. And if you are keeping all these other things in mind, then you're ready to go!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Know Your Limits

... and then plow past them as hard as you can.

We're not talking about a gambling habit here. If you're serious about drums (and life in general) you'll put some time into identifying both your personal strengths and weaknesses.

Working with our strengths is easy because it's self-rewarding. If you try something new and it works out well, you're rewarded and are therefore more inclined to try it again. Our weaknesses? Well we'd rather not even think about them, or maybe we're more comfortable denying them altogether.

Confronting our weaknesses will often make us stronger. The mere fact that we're tackling the issue can give us confidence and a feeling of competence. Acknowledging and working on a weakness will also help to minimize its impact on our lives and can even open up opportunities and discoveries.

I believe I've mentioned before that I have a poor memory. It's pretty hard to ignore because something or someone will point it out to me just about every day. And so I've worked on various techniques to help me remember, or at least to not lose track quite so badly. For example, I analyze tunes extensively to help me remember them. I chart them, make cue cards and sometimes even transcribe them. These exercises and systems have resulted in some respectable improvements.

Sometimes a simple work-around will get the job done when things just aren't coming together. Having trouble playing fast tempos? Find some stickings and patterns that give you a fast sound with less stress. Can't get your head around some complicated beat? Reduce it to its essential components:  pare it down, eliminate some of the complexity. Have trouble remembering things? Keep a notepad handy. Trouble identifying tunes? Create a database of first lines and keep it on your cell phone.

No matter what 'limit' is giving you trouble, you can probably find a solution. So don't be afraid to acknowledge your stumbling blocks, and then look for creative ways to overcome them.